Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Names Dr. Joseph Lee Its Next CEO
Dr. Lee will be the first physician, the first non-white leader and the youngest CEO in the organization’s history Provided photo

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Names Dr. Joseph Lee Its Next CEO

He’ll become the youngest CEO in the organization’s history.

The Center City-based Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has promoted Dr. Joseph Lee to president and CEO for the organization, which is the largest nonprofit provider of addiction and mental health care in the U.S.

Lee has served as medical director for Hazelden Betty Ford’s Youth Continuum since 2010.

Tapping Lee as the group’s new CEO represents many firsts for Hazelden: Lee will be the first physician, the first non-white leader and, at 45, the youngest CEO in its history. Lee is both an experienced addiction medicine doctor and child and adolescent psychiatrist. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea. Lee moves into the top role on June 28.

Many anecdotal reports have said that people have gotten deeper into drug and alcohol addiction during the pandemic. Does Lee think that’s been the case?

“Absolutely it’s been the case. It was the case even prior the pandemic. Suicide rates were going up, overdoses, the opioid epidemic…we saw it in our clinics,” Lee told Twin Cites Business. “With the pandemic, it just poured fuel on that fire.”

Lee added that conditions during the pandemic have underscored the disparity in access to care for mental health and addiction issues.

“One thing that was very illuminating through all the tragedy and Covid, is that we are not all affected equally. We saw that with businesses, we saw that with individuals, and we saw that with health care,” said Lee. “We saw that people with mental health and addiction [issues] especially fell through the cracks, had a harder time getting the necessary health care they deserved. That’s something we have to look at as a country.”

Hazelden also serves as a resource for business and companies dealing with mental health and addiction issues in their ranks.

“We’ve been partnering with a lot of different industries — airlines, hospitals — to improve awareness, improve screening, improve prevention services, become an outlet for help if they need it for their employees,” said Lee.

Center City is just a bump on the map, roughly 45 miles northeast of the Twin Cities off Highway 8. But its drug and alcohol treatment program is known around the globe. Hazelden was founded in 1949.

For 2019, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation posted revenue of $198.5 million.

Lee succeeds Mark Mishek, who has led Hazelden since November 2008. During his tenure Mishek piloted its merger with the California-based Betty Ford Center. The Betty Ford Center was co-founded in 1982 by former First Lady Betty Ford, the wife of President Gerald Ford, after her own battles with substance abuse.

“Humility, empathy, grace, and love—those are the values that define Dr. Lee the most. They’re also values that were important to my mother during her 33 years of recovery,” said Hazelden Betty Ford Trustee Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former First Lady Betty Ford, in a statement. “In addition to being a brilliant therapist and physician steeped in the science of medicine and quality care, Dr. Lee is a deeply thoughtful and insightful person who understands the human condition, the needs of the human spirit, and the power of community and connection.”

Lee said one side effect of the pandemic could be reducing the stigma often connected to mental health and addiction issues.

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that I think people understand maybe for the first time the loneliness, the suffering that comes with mental health and addiction issues,” said Lee. “I think the average citizen can now kind of relate to that.”